June 24, 2011
Why have the ETI, the Schools Inspctorate, been called in at short notice to review Cambridge House and hastily place a grammar school in special measures? Check the ETI website http://www.etini.gov.uk/ and determine how often the ETI revisit schools – it is usually many years between visits. It has been suggested to PACE by well-placed sources that the DENI were contacted by a disgruntled employee at Cambridge House Grammar School. The Inspection visit was a consequence. Now consider the aim of Sinn Fein Minister, John O’Dowd to end grammar schools in Northern Ireland and the difficulties that Ronnie Hazzard, principal of Ballymena Academy, has incurred over the integrity of the GL Assessment exam used to determine admissions to Ballymena Academy, Slemish College and St Louis Grammar School. Only Cambridge House uses the AQE test and has remained unsoiled by the use of a suspect test. Minister O’Dowd is currenly conducting an investigation into the GL Assessment and PPTC debacle.
For those with an eye for detail notice that the BBC Northern Ireland Report on Cambridge House Grammar school is dated June 17th 2011. The ETI published the Inspection Report for public consumption on the 22nd June 2011 robbing parents and the Ballymena public of an opportunity to immediately respond to the BBC story. Parents may suspect that the Northern Ireland media are a mere extension of the DENI’s publicity/propaganda machine.
February 5, 2011
The Parental Alliance for Choice in Education wish to draw attention to parents of an alternative mechanism for requesting a re-marking of the GL Assessment tests conducted by the PPTC schools. The tests are multiple choice and marked by inserting the answer sheet into an Optical Mark Reader (OMR)
Instructions on remarking are provided by the PPTC as demonstrated via the Ballymena Academy website.
Parents may wish to contact CCEA, the Northern Ireland Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment and request that the official regulator of exams put their child’s test paper through their “Chemistry Exam Special” OMR machine. After all there is no independent body utilized by the PPTC to verify the work of GL Assessment.
Ofqual in their reports into the latest blunder by CCEA made the following information available on how Caitriona Ruane’s specialist organisation treated computer-marked tests last year.
Now since the PPTC fail to explain to parents on behalf of GL Assessment (a) that the computer can only produce an exact same response every time the answer sheet is fed into it and (b) any adjustment to a score can only represent an intervention by a human and would therefore require an explanation of how the error was not detected in the first instance - there is little point in requesting a remark. However it seems that CCEA adjusted the grades and marks of some pupils in an upward direction but no mention is made of the treatment of those pupils who were awarded marks incorrectly.
Parents were encouraged to enter their children for the Post Primary Transfer Consortium’s GL Assessment Test to facilitate their transfer to grammar school. One of the most prominent inducements was that the tests were claimed to be free in contrast to the AQE (Association of Quality Education) CEA (Common Entrance Assessment) charge of £35.
The facts are otherwise.
The broadcast and print media made much of this distinction although not one correspondent produced any investigative findings to explain how GL Assessment were to be paid for their activities.
Figures provided in a delayed answer to a Freedom of Information request to Ballymena Academy reveal that a sum close to a quarter of a million pounds may have been paid by participating schools.
The source of the funds used by Ballymena Academy is not disclosed but averages over £28 per pupil.
Instead of one agreed common assessment test for grammar schools it appears that unidentified leaders from the PPTC wanted to make a distinction over £7. Unsuprisingly talks aimed at agreeing a common test have failed.
Parents of Ballymena Academy will no doubt be asking themselves why they are expected to fund applications from parents from various primary schools many of whom do not end up attending the school.
There is no free school lunch from the PPTC.
This is the undated, unattributed, incomplete and tardy response received from the Headmaster of Ballymena Academy Grammar School, Ronnie Hazzard in response to an FOIA request sent by the Parental Alliance for Choice in Education in March 2010. The postmark on the letter was 4th June, 2010.
Ballymena Academy joins a growing list of grammar schools appearing to think that the law on providing information, as a public authority, does not apply to them. Mr Hazzard’s personal assistant first claimed that the request had not been received when contacted after the 20 working day deadline had passed. An immediate e-mail with the original request date-stamped instantly disavowed the claim.
Read the request here and note carefully how Ballymena Academy totally ignored the first question and also subtly reworded questions posed.
No doubt the Information Commissioner’s Office will have something to say on the matter.
August 4, 2009
While various organisations in Northern Ireland such as The Governing Bodies Association (GBA) and The Association for Quality Education (AQE) have claimed to represent parental views on the issue of academic selection and grammar schools their sister grouping in England have been “outed” by The National Grammar Schools Association (NGSA) http://www.ngsa.org.uk
The NGSA was formed in the 1970s. It is a non-political, not-for-profit organisation supported by parents, school governors, heads, teachers, educationists and others, all concerned with the retention and promotion of the UK’s grammar schools as a valuable choice for parents.
Interestingly almost all of the 69 grammar schools in Northern Ireland declined an invitation to join this influential body when members of the NGSA co-hosted a symposium at Stormont a number of years ago and extended invitations to show strength in numbers. Perhaps local principals were already aware of the plans to destroy grammar schools in Northern Ireland and were cooperating fully with the DENI on implementing the rationalisation and comprehensive model. The roles of the former head of Methodist College, Belfast Wilfred Mulryne, Inst’s first female head, Janet Williamson, Ballymena Academy principal, Ronnie Hazzard and Neill Morton of Portora Royal School in Enniskillen are worthy of examination and critical review.
Read the quote from Shaun Fenton , Head of the successful and popular Pates Grammar School to understand that principals may have conflicted positions and say one thing to government while posing a very opposite position to parents and governors.
(Times Educational Supplement, 3 July 2009, p10)
“Before its official launch, the new Grammar Schools Heads Association(exclusive only to heads) had already been working with the Sutton Trust and holding meetings with the Department for Children, Schools and Families… Mr Shaun Fenton , Head of Pates Grammar School said the launch of the association was not timed with an eye on a general election within the next year. He said it would not be campaigning to save schools, such as St Bernard’s Catholic Grammar in Slough, Berkshire, that are slated for closure. ‘We support grammar schools as part of a diverse provision of education’, Mr Fenton said. ‘But if it works locally for a grammar school to become an academy [which must be comprehensive], that is a decision to be made locally. Gradual evolution is fine.’”
February 19, 2009
The descent into chaos for the Northern Ireland education system continues to plumb new depths. Many parents and their children are feeling the effects of the bends as they are dragged recklessly from regulation to deregulation and back again towards regulation.
If parents are considering which test is offered by their school of choice then the answer may be one, the other or both!
The Parental Alliance for Choice in Education have issued warnings on the educationalists’ plans for many years but understandably most have chosen to rely upon school representatives for guidance and information at a local level.. Such loyalty has been sadly misplaced evidenced by the increasingly inconsistent incoherent and erroneous information passed on by principals, teachers and spokespeople for various “Associations”
In December 2007, the Royal Belfast Academical Institution (Inst) was challenged on their polite platitudes towards socially disadvantaged local boys. The school refused to provide detailed answers. In addition their contradictory simultaneous support for the AQE test of numeracy and literacy and the CCEA Pupil Profile was laid at the foot of Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, Chairman of Governors. Again no clear response was provided. Bloomfield is a jockey out of many stables.
Recently Ballymena Academy published admission policy and aptitude test information for prospective pupils. This contingency plan for their “aptitude testing” would be implemented only in the event of an ‘unregulated’ transfer procedure – a hint of a possible move back towards regulation. The sample test items are clearly of the verbal reasoning type although the school do not indicate who provided their “contingency test” or who the chief examiner is. The guidance suggests should an acceptable alternative procedure gain the necessary support within the Northern Ireland Assembly, Ballymena Academy will comply with that procedure, their plan will not be implemented and parents will be advised accordingly.
Perhaps the Ballymena “contingency test” is similar to that of the Catholic grammar Lumen Christi. One can only wonder at why 69 schools could not agree a testing approach based on numeracy and literacy.
The most grotesque example of incoherence comes from Victoria College, the Belfast all girls grammar school in East Belfast. In the pages of the Irish News the principal, Patricia Slevin, announced:
“ pupils will gain entry to the college on the basis of their results in either of the tests which are being provided respectively by AQE and NFER”
Perhaps Ms Slevin should make contact with the examining bodies for advice on how to equate the two tests. Did the board of governors of Victoria College actually consider the problem before offering the criteria to prospective pupils.
Why have non-denominational grammar schools eschewed tests of numeracy and literacy in favour of a discredited obsolete verbal reasoning test?
Parents are entitled to have answers. Just don’t ask Sir Ken.